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The new ecumenical directory: an Orthodox review.

The "Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism" is part of the "general executive decrees" whose provisions apply insofar as they do not contravene the Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church (Art. 33, para. 1). It is divided into five chapters.

a. In line with the decrees of Vatican II (Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio), the chapter on the search for Christian unity reaffirms the Roman Catholic Church's enthusiastic support for ecumenical dialogue, which is presented as "a response to the gift of God's grace" (para. 9) or again as "a grace of God, given by the Father in answer to the prayer of Jesus and the supplication of the church inspired by the Holy Spirit" (para. 22). Nevertheless, the Roman Catholics continue to "hold the firm conviction that the one church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church 'which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him'" (para. 17), given that the college of bishops "has as its head the bishop of Rome as successor of Peter" (para. 14).

b. The organization in the Catholic Church of the service of Christian unity: This chapter sets out the persons and institutions entrusted with promoting the spirit of ecumenism at local, national and regional levels, and the directives governing their ecumenical activities. The basic principle adopted is the thesis of Unitatis Redintegratio, according to which (para. 55) "concern for restoring unity pertains to the whole church, faithful and clergy alike". It is thus a task which challenges all Christians, be it in their daily lives or in the context of theological or historical studies.

c. Ecumenical formation in the Catholic Church: This chapter describes the method, conditions and content of the ecumenical formation of the various categories of members of the Roman Catholic Church by means of the Scriptures, catechesis, liturgy and spiritual life. The places where this formation can take place are in the family, the parish, schools and the various associations and movements within the church. Ecumenical formation for the clergy of course covers a much wider range, especially in the field of theological studies at Roman Catholic universities, whereas for the laity it is limited essentially to a "spiritual ecumenism" whose principles can be taught to the faithful in the framework of catechesis.

d. Communion in life and spiritual activity among the baptized: This chapter examines the level of communion of Roman Catholics with other Christians on the basis of the sacrament of baptism and mutual recognition of its validity, and of the Second Vatican Council's "ecclesiology of communion". The introductory paragraph states that "by the sacrament of baptism a person is truly incorporated into Christ and into his church and is reborn to a sharing of the divine life. Baptism, therefore, constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn" (para. 92).

In this respect, the Directory explicitly emphasizes the Roman Catholic Church's recognition of the validity of baptism in the Orthodox Church, in contrast to the baptism conferred by the Protestant churches. We read in the Directory that "there is no doubt about the validity of baptism as conferred in the various Eastern Churches. It is enough to establish the fact of the baptism. In these churches the sacrament of chrismation is properly administered by the priest at the same time as baptism. There it often happens that no mention is made of chrismation in the canonical testimony of baptism. This does not give grounds for doubting that this sacrament was also conferred" (para. 99).

The paragraphs on sharing spiritual activities and resources (102ff.) refer to prayers offered in common with other Christians, sharing in non-sacramental liturgical worship and, finally, sharing sacramental life, especially the eucharist. Reference is made to the very positive attitude adopted in the decree Unitatis Redintegratio (ch. 14-15) towards the sacraments of the Orthodox Church for, "through the celebration of the eucharist of the Lord in each of these churches, the church of God is built up and grows in stature"; and "although separated from us these churches still possess true sacraments, above all - by apostolic succession - the priesthood and the eucharist".

For the Roman Catholic Church all this constitutes ecclesiological and sacramental grounds for allowing, even encouraging some sharing with these churches in liturgical worship and even of the eucharist, in appropriate situations and with the prior permission of the church authorities, provided of course the Orthodox Church agrees (paras 122-124). Roman Catholic priests may administer the sacraments of confession, the eucharist and extreme unction to sick members of the Eastern churches (para. 125); Roman Catholics may read the lesson at an Orthodox liturgy and vice versa (para. 126); Roman Catholic priests may take part in a marriage service celebrated by an Orthodox priest (para. 127); members of an Orthodox Church may be witnesses at a Roman Catholic marriage and vice versa (para. 128). By contrast, stricter conditions are laid down with regard to eucharistic communion with other Christian churches.

The Directory dwells at length on the subject of mixed marriages (para. 143ff.), which are entrusted to the pastoral responsibility of the bishop and the regional conferences of bishops for, it says, these questions are part of general pastoral care (para. 143). The basic condition for a mixed marriage is the spouses' common baptism (para. 145). The Roman Catholic spouse is required to affirm that he or she is prepared to avoid the dangers of abandoning the faith and to promise sincerely to do all in his or her power to see that all the children are baptized and educated in the Catholic Church (para. 150), but where it is impossible to keep these promises the Roman Catholic parent is not censured by Canon Law. But his or her obligation to share the Catholic faith with the children does not cease (para. 151). A mixed marriage blessed by an Orthodox priest is valid in the Roman Catholic Church so long as all other legal requirements for validity have been respected (para. 153).

e. Ecumenical cooperation, dialogue and common witness: This chapter lays down the basic principles and the main forms and rules of cooperation among Christians in a perspective of dialogue and of common witness in the world. The participation of Roman Catholics in the various forms of ecumenical cooperation is encouraged under the discretion of the bishop or episcopal conferences and in keeping with the principles set out in the Directory. "Councils of churches" and "Christian councils" are among the most permanent structures set up for promoting ecumenical cooperation in various areas of activity and spiritual experience (paras 166ff.), so long as participation in these is in keeping with the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church and does not blur its unique and specific identity (para. 169).

Ecumenical dialogue is presented as being at the heart of ecumenical cooperation and accompanying all forms of it (para. 172); it is therefore encouraged at a diocesan level as well as at the level of episcopal conferences and the wider ecumenical sphere (paras 173ff.), once again following the principles set down in the decree Unitatis Redintegratio. Theological dialogues and ecumenical cooperation encourage common Bible work, the use of the most important common prayers and creeds in the churches' liturgical life, ecumenical cooperation in catechesis and the various levels of theological training, cooperation in pastoral and missionary' activity, in dialogue with other religions, in social and cultural life, and so on.

A brief first evaluation of the Directory from an Orthodox point of view could be as follows:

a. The Directory aims consistently to promote the participation of the Roman Catholic Church in the contemporary ecumenical dialogue at all levels. All the previous texts on this subject produced by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity have been drawn together into a well-structured and comprehensive text for the guidance of members of the Roman Catholic Church, which will also be useful for everyone involved in the contemporary ecumenical dialogue.

b. The Directory helps to clarify certain ambiguities, not to say contradictions, between the decrees of Vatican II (Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio) and the new Code of Canon Law of 1983, which drew criticism of the Roman Catholic Church's initiatives in the field of ecumenical dialogue, not only from outsiders but also from within its own ranks. From the Roman Catholic point of view, the Directory may be considered as having successfully overcome these difficulties.

c. As we have seen from the brief outline of the five chapters of the Directory, it is undeniably faithful to the principles of Vatican II's "ecclesiology of communion" based on baptism and encouraging ecumenical openness without sacrificing the traditional core of Roman Catholic ecclesiology. The ecclesiological perspective of the past discreetly makes way for the new ecclesiology of Vatican II and highlights all the positive points of Unitatis Redintegratio in order to balance the aspects of the contemporary ecumenical dialogue which remain to be clarified, such as the ecclesial character of the churches and Christian confessions apart from the Roman Catholic Church.

d. The Directory maintains and emphasizes the positive attitude of Unitatis Redintegratio in regard to the Orthodox Church and its sacraments, and does so indeed without insisting on reciprocity. On the contrary, it respects the strict ecclesiological conditions of the Orthodox Church and in particular the essential elements of Orthodox tradition and spirituality.

e. In officially presenting this Directory the Roman Catholic Church has not only defined the framework for its own participation in current ecumenical dialogue, but has also enabled its representatives to engage responsibly in both bilateral and multilateral ecumenical dialogues.

f. Finally, in a period of confessional antagonism, for which a sizable share of responsibility must be attributed to the Roman Catholic Church, the Directory presents a different image of the latter, as a church persevering in an ecumenical dialogue conducted on a footing of equality and sincere cooperation to promote Christian unity.

Metropolitan Damaskinos is metropolitan of Switzerland (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople). This article is translated by the Language Service, WCC, from Episkepsis, no. 493, the bulletin of the Orthodox Centre in Chambesy (Geneva).
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Title Annotation:the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism
Author:Damaskinos of Switzerland
Publication:The Ecumenical Review
Article Type:Directory
Date:Oct 1, 1995
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